When I first heard that the U.S. military's report into the Fort Hood shootings made no mention of the role religion played, I didn't have high hopes for the media coverage. Perhaps this is unfair to both groups but I expect the media to be more politically correct than the military. So I was surprised to see this Time magazine story take on the issue so directly. Reporter Mark Thompson explains the situation, noting that lawmakers and others aren't exactly pleased with how religion was handled in the report:
John Lehman, a member of the 9/11 commission and Navy Secretary during the Reagan Administration, says a reluctance to cause offense by citing Hasan's view of his Muslim faith and the U.S. military's activities in Muslim countries as a possible trigger for his alleged rampage reflects a problem that has gotten worse in the 40 years that Lehman has spent in and around the U.S. military. The Pentagon report's silence on Islamic extremism "shows you how deeply entrenched the values of political correctness have become," he told TIME on Tuesday. "It's definitely getting worse, and is now so ingrained that people no longer smirk when it happens."
The apparent lack of curiosity into what allegedly drove Hasan to kill isn't in keeping with the military's ethos; it's a remarkable omission for the U.S. armed forces, whose young officers are often ordered to read Sun Tzu's The Art of War with its command to know your enemy. In midcareer, they study the contrast between capabilities and intentions, which is why they aren't afraid of a British nuclear weapon but do fear the prospect of Iran getting one.
The story is brief, so perhaps that's why it doesn't include the mention of what the Army's top officer, Gen. George Casey, said following the attack: "As horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that's worse."
The reporter does note that the leaders of the review say they weren't interested in looking at motivations and they were worried of running afoul of the criminal probe of Hasan. Here's what's next:
But without a motive, there would have been no murder. Hasan wore his radical Islamic faith and its jihadist tendencies in the same way he wore his Army uniform. He allegedly proselytized within the ranks, spoke out against the wars his Army was waging in Muslim countries and shouted "Allahu akbar" (God is great) as he gunned down his fellow soldiers. Those who served alongside Hasan find the Pentagon review wanting. "The report demonstrates that we are unwilling to identify and confront the real enemy of political Islam," says a former military colleague of Hasan, speaking privately because he was ordered not to talk about the case. "Political correctness has brainwashed us to the point that we no longer understand our heritage and cannot admit who, or what, the enemy stands for."
This paragraph is interesting. I actually don't disagree that Hasan was open about his radical views. But is "proselytizing" a demonstration of radicalism? Is all evangelism or sharing of the faith a sign of being a radical extremist? Even if it's not appropriate behavior for active military on the job, is the simple sharing of religious views now considered proof of radicalism? Perhaps this claim would be better supported by other evidence, of which there is much.
The last paragraph speaks to the military report, but I think there's a journalistic point as well:
The report lumps in radical Islam with other fundamentalist religious beliefs, saying that "religious fundamentalism alone is not a risk factor" and that "religious-based violence is not confined to members of fundamentalist groups." But to some, that sounds as if the lessons of 9/11, Afghanistan and Iraq, where jihadist extremism has driven deadly violence against Americans, are being not merely overlooked but studiously ignored.
One of the main reasons why I wish that reporters would do a better job of digging into the story of radical Islam is because, by avoiding it, they further the idea that all Muslims are suspect. Not all Muslims are Muslim terrorists or seek to be Muslim terrorists. Percentage-wise, we're talking about a small group of people. The public is highly aware of at least some link between Islam and terror. But if we can't have real discussions about religious differences for fear of being politically incorrect, the danger is that it will tarnish all of Islam instead of just that subset affiliated with terror. Perhaps it's not surprising that the military would be reticent to look at the role of religion in this attack. Thankfully the media can hold them at least somewhat accountable.